Weight gain is a terrifying concept for a lot of people. Changing the outlook – how to enjoy weight gain – that’s often an even more difficult matter. But there are ways to adjust your thinking and in this article we’ll try to do just that.
For decades, obesity has been measured by the BMI or “body mass index” method, which is basically a system that calculates a person’s height-weight ratio. If the ratio is too high, it means that person is fat and should lose weight to be healthier.
However, most fitness trainers, consultants, professional athletes and even intermediary trainees are well aware of the limitations of the BMI. It simply does not take into account body composition nor other physical or mental attributes. For example, many bodybuilders have a BMI so high, that they are technically considered obese and told to lose weight, even though they may be sporting a six-pack and a visually impressive musculature with almost no noticeable body fat at all. Ridiculous, right?
Even though the medical community has lately taken steps to substitute the BMI for a more accurate method, it’s too little, too late. The damage has already been done. Damage to the perception of the general public, who after years of being told there is a specific weight that’s suitable for their height, has become obsessed with weight management instead of paying attention to body composition and other attributes.
But why exactly is it important to pay attention to so many different things?
The numbers on the scale cannot accurately tell you how much body fat or lean muscle tissue you have (those electric scales are just about worthless, don’t rely on them) and most people wouldn’t even know what numbers would be good anyway. The numbers on the scale do not reflect your health status, physical prowess nor general well-being.
It’s important to pay attention to body composition and other attributes because making the right choices when it comes to physical and mental fitness is the key to a long and high quality life.
What happens more often than not, though?
Careless dieting – with the goal of losing or maintaining body weight, which is just a number on a scale with very little importance in the grand scheme of things.
What can happen during careless dieting that concentrates only on losing body weight?
1) Strength loss and injuries. Constant dieting with the aim of losing weight is likely to cause muscle deterioration. You grow weaker. Because of that weakness and the reduced recovery rate that dieting brings, you also become more prone to injuries.
2) Skinny-fat phenomenon. Losing considerable amounts of both fat tissue and muscle tissue will produce limited success in achieving a “lean” look. That’s because there will be a lack of supporting muscle tissue beneath the skin to give you proper curves and that tight, sexy skin. Careless dieting can make you look skinny, but still “flabby”. Loose skin, lack of curves. Skinny, but still kinda fat.
3) Fat loss stagnation and rapid fat mass re-gain after dieting. Making progress and later maintaining the results become much harder. Muscle tissue is active tissue. It constantly burns more calories and contributes to a higher basal metabolic rate. Higher amount of muscle mass, strength and endurance also promotes greater energy expenditure by allowing more intense exercising. Lose too much muscle tissue while also losing a lot of weight in general, and you may find that keeping that weight off is next to impossible without starving yourself. That however, leads to a whole other bunch of problems like nutrient deficiencies, poor mood and various health issues. It is not sustainable and future overeating will cause massive fat gain, often resulting in being worse off than before.
So, what’s the solution?
Clearly the solution is to take care to retain your muscle mass while dieting, concentrating on losing fat, not just general weight. Attention should also be put on improving physical attributes and to gain more muscle mass in general.
But doesn’t gaining muscle mass also mean you gain weight?
Usually yes. Unless you are a complete beginner to exercising (in which case burning fat mass and losing weight can still be done while also gaining muscle mass) you will have to accept some weight gain in order to add more muscle mass.
However, total weight gain in the pursuit for greater muscle mass can often times be only temporary. That is, if you also compliment periods of muscle gain with periods of fat loss, you can end up with a very normal body weight indeed.
Also, the thing is, that long term weight gain doesn’t automatically mean fat gain, or at the very least, it doesn’t mean noticeable fat gain. That is – you can gain weight, gain some fat mass but still look leaner and healthier overall.
Now say what? How does that work?
Think for a moment about the body fat percentage. The percentage of your body weight that is fat mass. Now, also realize that you have a muscle mass percentage as-well. What happens if you add considerably more muscle mass than fat mass? What happens is that even though your body fat may go up, and the numbers on the scale climb higher, the extra muscle mass can cause your total body weight to increase to the point that your body fat percentage actually goes down. And that means, even though you have gained some fat and body weight, you don’t really look noticeable fatter. Often, you look better, leaner even.
Here’s an example:
You weigh 220lb or 100kg. You have a fat percentage of 20% which means you have about 44lb or 20kg of pure fat mass in your body. Now, let’s say that you add 22lb or 10kg of body weight over the course of a few years. Because you exercised properly, kept your diet in check, and remembered to cycle between muscle gain and fat loss periods, you gained 80% muscle tissue and 20% fat mass from your weight gain. So you gained about 17.6lb or 8kg of muscle and 4.4lb or 2kg of fat tissue.
Your body weight is now 244lb or 110kg. However, your body fat percentage is 44+4.4= 48.4lb / 244 x 100 = 19.83% !!! Your body fat percentage hasn’t gone up, despite gaining over 20 pounds. It’s actually gone down!
You may be heavier, you may have a little more fat mass to carry around, but chances are that you will look better. Healthier, stronger, fitter in general.
Just because you gain weight, doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting fat. And similarly, just because you are losing weight, doesn’t mean you’re getting that lean, sexy body you desire. Muscle mass matters! Weight – the numbers on the scale – not so much! If we took BMI seriously, per my weight and height, I would be borderline obese.
And here’s one of the most famous “OBESE” men out there:
However, if there is one thing to pay attention to, it’s the speed of the changes. The faster you try to alter your body composition, the more things are likely to backfire. The faster you push for weight gain, the more you’ll gain fat mass. Muscle mass simply takes a lot of time to build, especially so for women, while fat mass comes easily. The following numbers may seem like an excruciatingly slow rate of progress, but aim for a weight gain of no more than 1-2lb (~0.45-0.9kg) a MONTH. If complimented with a solid work-out routine and diet, such a slow and steady weight gain is likely to produce very little fat gain. (the lower the rate of gain, the less danger of gaining excess fat tissue)
Similarly, when losing weight, aim for no more than 2-4lb (~0.9-1.8kg) of weight loss a MONTH. (the slower the weight loss, the less danger there is of muscle loss)
I am well aware of how most people simply cannot psychologically cope with such a slow rate of progress. However I must emphasize that getting in shape, getting healthy, is a marathon, not a race. You don’t achieve your goals by forcing yourself into exhaustion for a few months, wrecking your body and mind. No, you achieve long term results if you change your lifestyle just a little bit, enough to start the marathon in the right direction. Keep the approach sustainable and whatever results you achieve, will always stay there.
Besides. Think about it. 1-2lb (~0.45-0.9kg) of weight gain a month is 12-24lb (5.45-10.9kg) of gain over a whole year. A single year. And similarly, imagine losing 2-4lb (0.9-1.8kg) in a month, that’s 24-48lb (~10.9-21.8kg) a year. One year and you could be 48lb (~21.8kg) lighter, without sacrificing that important muscle tissue. All you have to do, is think ahead and take it slow.
(A word of advice: don’t chase a single goal, either gaining muscle or losing weight, for more than about 6 months in a row. Give your body time to rest and switch directions. Extended dieting for fat loss or overeating for the sake of muscle gain can be stressful for both the body and the mind. In addition, it may eventually get very hard to switch gears if you’ve gotten used to a single approach. )
Try to keep the following in mind.
By following some simple guidelines, you can fairly easily retain just about all muscle mass you have while burning off fat mass during a diet. However, it’s quite difficult to gain additional muscle mass without also packing on some extra fat. (As outlined above, rate of weight gain should be very slow, cause muscle is hard to build, while fat is easy to gain)
What that means, is that all-in-all, you shouldn’t worry too much about some fat gain during your muscle growth period, because avoiding it is nearly impossible. (Also, as explained above – you won’t necessary look worse if you also gain good muscle mass as-well)
- There isn’t much you can do about it. You can gain weight very slowly and thus minimize extra fat gain, but a little fat will come along for the ride.
- Adding some body fat won’t necessarily make you look any worse, especially if solid muscle gain is present.
- Excess body fat can be burned off quite fast, without compromising muscle tissue. (If you follow the weight gain/loss numbers above, you should be able to lose fat much more quickly than you gain it)
Additional numbers and methods to pay attention to when gauging your fitness and health levels:
I think we’ve established quite well, that the number on the scale is hardly the most important thing to pay attention to. So, what are the things to really pay attention to?
1) Measurements. By getting a measuring tape and taking a look at the key points on your body, you can much more accurately gauge the changes in body composition. Often times you may experience small weight gain, but discover that your waist size is going down and those tight pants you used to wear, suddenly fit extremely well. Similarly, it’s not uncommon to lose weight and have the measuring tape tell you that your muscle measurements have gone up.
I lost 6lb a few years ago during a 6 month period. Negligible weight loss, but I lost 4 inches off my waistline while also gaining 2 inches on my chest. I became lighter, yet bigger, but also considerably leaner.
2) How you look in the mirror. The scale and measuring tape can give us great insights into the progress of our body, but in the end, those are just numbers. When it comes down to chasing your ideal physique, it pays to look in the mirror or take pictures of yourself. You need to learn how to be happy with not only the numbers that make up your body but also how you look to yourself and others. Nobody really cares about your weight or measurements, they care about what they can see.
3) How you feel and perform. Never underestimate the value of your personal feelings nor the performance level of your body. If you are happy, energetic, truly full of life and feel like you can take on the whole world by yourself, the numbers on a scale become all but meaningless.
Changing the outlook – how to enjoy weight gain. The bottom line.
Don’t be afraid of weight gain. Especially so if you have achieved it over a longer period of time through careful, thought out dieting methods and exercising. The number on the scale is not the single most important thing that reflects your fitness or health levels. It’s just not.
Learn to appreciate other methods that measure the changes your body goes through – how you feel, perform and look. Learn to understand the concept behind body composition and you’ll see that the scale becomes less and less interesting.
I wish you luck!
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